Lets face it, writing is hard.
Almost all writers I have spoken to WANT to write but find it so difficult to DO the writing. Mostly I think it’s because writing is so dear to us that we are afraid of failure. This can be because we feel we need to churn out award-winning prose on the first attempt.
So we procrastinate and tell ourselves wonderful reasons as to why we can’t write. Some of my own personal (favourite) reasons to NOT be writing are:
- I don’t have the time to write.
- I’m tired.
- I need to learn HOW to write before I can actually write.
- My words are not good enough to be published so there is no point in writing.
- I don’t want to publish my work so whats the point of writing?
But this is the wrong approach. Because all the reasons above are really just different variations of Fear.
As humans we put off doing those things that are the most important to us because we are afraid of failing. Failure is seen as something to avoid in today’s world.
We live in an age of ‘ I want it now’. In fact ‘I want it now’ has become ‘I wanted it yesterday’ because we are so much more impatient. We don’t want overnight success, we want success within the next few minutes (perhaps your book being mentioned by Oprah on Twitter resulting in 1 million books sold within the next 10 minutes).
I used to be like that. I used to think I wanted to sit and write the best book in the world and somehow without investing the required time, love and care a book needs, it would miraculously sell millions of copies.
I missed the point.
The whole point of writing is to write.
And in my case I spent a lot of time googling HOW to write rather than actually DOING the writing.
So at the start of 2016 I made a commitment to myself that this would be the year I DO. My key word of the year is DO. So every time I am tempted to say ‘I want to…’ I replace it with ‘i do..’
- ‘I want to exercise daily’ became ‘I DO exercise daily’. (And I DO workout everyday at the gym).
- ‘I want to write daily’ became ‘I DO write daily’ (as evident by my current unbroken 22 day word chain).
- ‘I want to eat less sugar’ became ‘I DO not eat sugar’.
Thinking is so overrated.
I don’t THINK about writing anymore. Instead, I DO the writing. I don’t research how to write. I write. And with time and patience I know my craft will improve. This is how masters are made. They work their way to the top of their field by continually putting in the work and showing up to do the work.
I think of my wonderful Grandma as a Master. She was so full of wisdom and used to have the answer to every question. Sometimes I didn’t have to ask the question and she could detect my problem from a mile away and offer her resolve with her wise words. She was a Master of Life. She had been there and done it all. And she could now command from a place of respect and authority. That is what Masters DO. They show up everyday and do what they have to do. Just like my Grandma did. She showed up everyday and did whatever it took to raise her family and run a home.
So I asked myself how can I show up to work everyday? I used to think it was ok to write every other day or when I ‘felt ‘ like writing. But the trouble with emotions is that they can be fleeting and unpredictable. And most of the time they can dictate your behaviour.
So I decided to switch it up and become the master of my emotions. I would train myself to ‘feel ‘ like writing everyday by turning up to my desk and writing for a specified amount of time OR writing until I hit a particular word count.
I was skeptical at first to see if this would work because contrary to popular belief, it takes at least 2 months of constant daily action to create a habit, and not the popular touted theory of 21 days.
So I decided to start a word chain. This is an idea that was popularised by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld (although he has apparently said he never created this!) but the idea goes something like this.
When asked how he was able to create such great content consistently for his shows, he replied saying that every day he would create new content and mark a big cross on his calendar. For every day he created content, he would continue to mark a cross on the calendar, effectively creating a chain of crosses. The idea was then to not ‘break the chain’.
Ideally you will add a cross to the calendar for every day you create new content. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that if you consistently put in the daily action then you will produce great content eventually. It’s a numbers game. The more you write, the better you will eventually become.
So I started my writing chain three weeks ago and gave myself a target to write 500 words every day. At first my words were more like journal entries and general word vomit about nothing in particular. The first 3 days were hard. And that was surprising. I felt like quitting every minute for those three days. But then on the fourth day new ideas started to emerge from within me. It’s as if I had cleared out all the rubbish in my system and was now ready to churn out some decent words.
On days 4-7 I started to write in excess of 1500 words per day. And today when I got up to write, I didn’t need any motivation or other incentive to write. It sort of became like a habit. Like something I knew I had to DO before I could go on with my day.
How can I put this into practice?
Ideally, if you can, try to dedicate a certain time or place where you can write these words. For me, its at my desk after breakfast, but before lunch. My deadline is to have written my daily word count before lunchtime.
This helps me to focus my efforts on that particular goal. Once I have completed those words, I grab my pen and mark it off on my calendar. It’s never felt so good to put a massive cross across my calendar.
Committing to write at a certain time and place helps to also train your brain into knowing that its time to write. When I sit at my desk I feel like I want to write. I know that this is the place I need to write. It’s almost become a sacred place for me to write (to the extent I now don’t let anyone use my desk as its my special place to write!).
And seeing a chain of crosses across the calendar adds further motivation. I feel like I want to fill my entire calendar with crosses (strange as it may appear,I find this thoroughly exciting).
Decide to write to a word count (i.e 500 words) or time limit (i.e write for 20 minutes) or a particular goal (i.e complete one page / one blog post / one chapter). Be specific.
And that is how you start a daily writing habit. One cross at a time. Give it a go. Initially, just focus on getting past the first three days. Once you get past Day 3, focus on getting through Day 4. And that’s all it really comes down to. Taking it a day at a time. You are a writer. So start writing now.
Ps you can download a free calendar here to mark your progress on.
And another great post on how to start writing is here.
Have you started a writing chain? What were your main challenges? Where there any surprises? Share your experiences in the comments below.